The running man

From Born to Run

by Christopher McDougall

The Rarámuri, or Tarahumara, are a Native American people from northwestern Mexico, renowned for their long-distance running ability. In their language the term rarámuri refers specifically to the men. This passage was read at Sir Christopher Chataway’s memorial service, held at St John’s Church on 19th March 2014, a brilliant celebration of a wonderful life. Chris was one of Britain’s most famous athletes. He held the world record for the 5,000 metres and paced Roger Bannister for the first 4-minute mile. Though running was his passion, he was so much more; a highly successful businessman, government minister and chair of the international development charity ActionAid to mention just a few. A great man and a good friend too.


‘That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath, mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle – behold, The Running Man. Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten: you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love – everything we sentimentally call our ‘passions’ and ‘desires’– it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run: We were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.’


Joe Louis knocks out Max Schmeling, 22nd June 1938

This breathless transcript from a radio broadcast paints a powerful picture. It’s included because it packs so much action into so few words. In a previous fight Schmeling had beaten Louis, an achievement the recently elected Nazi party took as a symbol of German supremacy over non-Aryans. Just before this fight in Madison Square Gardens New York, Adolf Hitler apparently wrote to Max Schmeling reminding him of his nation’s expectations, leaving the boxer in no doubt that this was one fight he had to win. The controversy sold a lot of tickets, adding hugely to the pre-fight hype.

Joe Louis Max Schmeling

‘Listen to this, buddy, for it comes from a guy whose palms are still wet, whose throat is still dry, and whose jaw is still agape from the utter shock of watching Joe Louis knock out Max Schmeling.

‘It was a shocking thing, that knockout – short, sharp, merciless, complete. Louis was like this.

‘He was a big lean copper spring, tightened and retightened through weeks of training until he was one pregnant package of coiled venom.

‘Schmeling hit that spring with a whistling, right-handed punch in the first minute of that fight and the spring, tormented with tension, suddenly burst with one brazen spang of activity. Hard brown arms, propelling two unerring fists, blurred beneath the hot white candelabra of the ring lights. And Schmeling was in the path of them, a man caught and mangled in the whirring claws of a mad and feverish machine.

‘There were four steps to Schmeling’s knockout…’

From Bob Considine’s ringside commentary, reported in The New York Times.

Joe Louis 2